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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Jane Sanders and Naomi Klein barnstorm for Bernie in Grinnell

Naomi Klein speaks with supporter Anna Grabowski before a photo op at a Thursday rally for Bernie Sanders. Grabowski traveled from her home in Tennessee to volunteer during caucus season. Photo by Andy Pavey.

Where in the world is Bernie Sanders?

Throughout the 2020 caucus season, Vermont Senator and Democratic candidate for president has been almost entirely absent from Poweshiek County, which he clinched by five points in 2016. Rivals Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang have all visited Grinnell College, speaking to crowds of about 850, 500 and 150 respectively. But Sanders is nowhere to be seen at a critical junction in the election cycle. His sole appearance in the County was a canvass launch event at a supporter’s home over winter break.

It’s not that Sanders has been short on excuses: This week, just days before caucus night, he and Warren were forced to return to Washington, D.C. for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. And Sanders was slated to speak in Grinnell in early October, but a heart attack forced his campaign to cancel.

In his stead, a variety of surrogates have stepped up to barnstorm the Grinnell community for the Sanders campaign. On Thursday, that was Jane Sanders, the Senator’s wife of over 30 years, and climate activist and journalist Naomi Klein. Originally set for the Harris Center, a campaign volunteer told The S&B the event was moved because of “scheduling issues” to a small conference room in the Joe Rosenfield Center. About 80 people attended.

The Los Angeles-based band Las Cafeteras, which has been on the road with the campaign in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, introduced Klein and Sanders with a raucous set of Afro-Mexican music that had feet tapping and fingers snapping. “Like it’s open mic night,” the band joked.

The music was also infused with political messaging.

“Anyone heard of Wu-Tang?” vocalist Hector Paul Flores asked. The audience cheered. “Well, we’re not them. But we can try to be like them.” The band led the crowd in a variety of chants, including “Black Lives Matter” and “student power,” and played new twists on old Latinx protest songs.

Journalist and climate activist Naomi Klein had never campaigned for a presidential candidate before 2020, but she has “thrown in” on Bernie Sanders’s campaign this time around. She began her remarks by asking the audience to close their eyes. “I want you to picture something unbelievable: inauguration,” she said. “Picture what it feels like to go from an administration that is guided by unending personal greed and lust for power to one that is guided by love, solidarity, and collective transformation.”

“It will be the most epic case of moral whiplash the world has ever seen.”

Climate change was the main factor that convinced Klein to campaign for Sanders. “All of us who pay attention to the science know that our governments have been procrastinating for so many decades – since before many of the people in this room were born,” she said.

“Bernie Sanders was saying in 1988 that we need to take action in the face of this crisis. A year later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed at the United Nations … and they warned and they warned and they warned … and governments met, and they talked and they talked and they talked, and emissions went up and up and up by more than 40 percent.”

“What that means now is that we’ve just run out of time,” Klein said, touting Sanders’s Green New Deal, which she said “puts justice at the center.” She also emphasized the Sunrise Movement’s endorsement of Sanders early this year.

Campaign organizer Bethany Willig `23 gets a quick picture with Jane Sanders. Photo by Andy Pavey

After Klein’s speech, Jane Sanders took the stage. “It’s great to be back,” she said. “I’m really honored to be here representing my husband Bernie Sanders.”

Taking a more casual tone, she spoke about her relationship with Sanders and life on the campaign trail. “I could give you a political speech … but I think you’d prefer to hear a little more about Bernie the person. And,” she admitted, smiling, “if you’re talking about Bernie the person you’re talking about policy. He lives, eats and breathes it.”

“I met Bernie in 1981 when I was a community organizer and he was running for mayor. The neighborhood groups organized a debate, and the first time I heard him speak I just thought he embodied everything I believe in – and he still does,” Sanders said.

“During this campaign, I have recognized that response from so many audiences as they’ve listened to him at his events, and it’s made me very proud to be standing at his side.”

After the event, Klein and Sanders answered questions from audience members. Kiran Loewenstein `22, an organizer for Free College for All, asked “how Bernie’s plan for free college for all will make sure that faculty and staff at institutions of higher education will be treated justly.” Sanders highlighted her husband’s support for unions and acknowledged the fact that tenure-track jobs are vanishing in favor of adjunct roles with lower pay and worse benefits.

Two of Sanders’s grandchildren, decked out in “All Access” badges, stood behind the two speakers as they chatted with supporters and posed for pictures after the event’s conclusion. Later, the kids were seen taking a photo in front of the Sanders campaign bus while it was parked outside of Noyce, attempting to take the perfect midair freeze-frame jump picture. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite get the shot.

The Sanders grandchildren try for the perfect midair freeze-frame jump-shot in front of the Bernie Sanders campaign bus. Photo by Andy Pavey.

Other Bernie supporters have visited the community in the Senator’s place, including filmmaker Michael Moore, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, and activist Phillip Agnew, who spoke together at an event last week.

It’s not all celebrities and politicians, however: The S&B spoke to five campaign volunteers from Tennessee who are living and canvassing in town as the caucuses approach. “We all volunteered on the campaign in 2016,” Grinnell resident Julie Nelson said, “so they’re awesome, and they’re here to help us out this weekend.” Nelson is housing her fellow volunteers at her home in Grinnell as the caucuses loom.

Although Iowa will soon be out of the political limelight for another four years, a few more big names are set to visit Grinnell on Sanders’s behalf this weekend. According to the campaign, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal will speak alongside Jane Sanders at Saints Rest Coffee House on Saturday at 3:00 pm.

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